2006-07-15 / Top News

Island Marina To Undergo Full Reconstruction

By Paul Gingras

The Mackinac Straits area was featured in discussions by the Michigan State Waterways Commission, which reviewed the ongoing Mackinac Island Marina project, the development of the Mackinaw City State Dock, a complaint about the bidding process for marina construction projects, and the impact of online registration on Michigan marinas during a meeting in St. Ignace Friday, June 9.

The Mackinac Island Marina will undergo "complete rehabilitation," said Bill Boik, waterways planning unit manager. "The intention is to upgrade it to today's current standards."

To do so, all worn infrastructure will be replaced, the widths of slips will be adjusted, the dock will be re-stabilized, decking will be replaced, and the facility's utilities will be upgraded.

The higher amperage necessary to do so, Mr. Boik added, will require new substations and transformers on the mainland.

"Everything will be brought up to date," he added, "including the bathrooms and service buildings."

The Waterways Commission plans to landscape the shoreline, replace the walkway, and all docks attached to the walkway will be re-finished.

Improvements to the Mackinac Island marina will cost $600,000 more than the $3.6 million originally budgeted.

"The upgrades were several years in the planning," said Harold Herta, chief of resource management for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "Over the years, there have been increases in construction costs and other problems that drove the price up."

Work on the facility has suffered from a series of false starts, Mr. Boik added. During that time, the original estimate fell short, owing to inflation, the cost of fuel, rising material transportation costs, and other factors. The $600,000 shortfall will be taken care of with Waterways funding, he added.

The facility is only in fair condition.

"As far as I'm concerned, the Mackinac Island marina is the premiere destination in Michigan for boaters on the Great Lakes," Mr. Boik said. "We know we need to improve it. We don't want people to arrive and find a run-down facility."

Renovations will begin after the main-use season is over, to avoid interfering with boater traffic.

"When we begin renovations, we'll probably be done the same year," he said. "My guess is this will be in 2007."

In other business, the Waterways Commission discussed the Mackinaw City State Dock project, which will be a "whole new facility," Mr. Boik said.

What is known as the old state car ferry dock will be redeveloped. A marina will be created with slips positioned in front of the city park, between the breakwater and the shoreline, Mr. Boik said. All slips will be accessed by the state dock.

A state-of-the-art boat launch is also in the works, he said, and infrastructure for cruise ships will eventually be put into place.

Like the Mackinac Island project, existing structures at the Mackinaw City State Dock will be reworked, and landscaping will re-shape the shoreline. The Commission will also address storm-water runoff.

A new harbor building will be built, he added. It will coincide with village efforts to be known as a "green community." It will be a "green building," designed for maximum energy efficiency, Mr. Boik said. The Commission is discussing the use of heat pumps, solar energy, highly efficient lighting, even waterless urinals.

Cruise ship companies have expressed interest in docking at the facility, Mr. Herta said, but it may be two years before such ships are able to use the facility. There are no contracts between the state and cruise ship companies at this stage, he said.

To assess what needs to be done to provide infrastructure for cruise ships, divers will examine the cribbing at the lake bottom.

"We know there has been some settling, but we're not sure why," Mr. Boik said.

Preliminary engineering studies must be completed before the Commission can determine exactly what needs to be done. Depending on what divers find, there may need to be extensive construction for cruise ship docking, Mr. Boik said. Experienced contractors and a large barge may be required. If that turns out to be the case, the scope of the new construction "won't be little," he said.

For now, however, construction of the new marina is the state's focus. When completed, it will provide transient boaters with access to up to 125 new slips.

"We're hoping to complete the marina portion by 2007," Mr. Boik said.

It is a four-phase project. Phase II is underway and includes stabilizing the current state dock and the construction of the boat launch. Phase III will focus on creating the new harbor building and the floating docks. Phase IV will deal with infrastructure needed for cruise ships, including any stabilizing work necessary at the end of the dock, Mr. Boik said.

Throughout the project, there will be harbor dredging as well. Marinas that offer online reservations have seen an increase in business, Mr. Herta told the Commission in a presentation about the state's Centralized Reservation System (CRS).

"Every time a marina goes online, it increases business, relatively speaking," he said.

Marinas that were poorly attended before connecting to CRS saw the most dramatic increases, he said.

Michigan's system was the first centralized reservation system in the nation and was used to register campsites in state parks. The state expanded it to include marinas in 2001.

One advantage is that patrons who can't get a reservation for their first choice can look for an alternative marina, and this, he said, has been particularly helpful to underused facilities.

The reservation system generated some resistance among park managers and harbor masters, he noted. In Mr. Herta's opinion, this discontent results from a change in the determination method concerning who gets a slip or campsite, a responsibility harbor masters and park managers are accustomed to having. Now, the computer assigns reservations on a first come-first serve basis.

The Waterways Commission wants marinas hooked into the Internet with Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), instead of by satellite, which can be lost in bad weather, such as fog, or interrupted by bursts of radiation from the sun. A DSL connection has been tested at the St. Ignace Marina and has been superior to satellite connections, he said, and since the central database connecting Michigan's marinas is in Maryland, each facility must have a "robust and reliable" system.

DSL is not available everywhere, however, he noted, and satellite will still be used as a backup.

Three marinas have connected to CRS this year, including the Harrisville Municipal Marina, Pentwater Municipal Marina, and West Basin Marina at St. Joseph. Next year, five more will be added, including the Hessel, Grand Marais, Elk Rapids, Charlevoix, and Menominee marinas.

CRS costs nothing for marinas to access, but it does raise the cost for patrons, who pay an additional $3 per night at facilities using the database.

Overall, marina reservations are down six percent compared to the same time last year, Mr. Herta said, although some areas are way up and others are way down.

The downturn is "not a great surprise," he said, owing to gas prices and the economy, but business is looking up as the summer goes on. Earlier in the season, patronage was down 15 percent over last year, and further research indicates that patrons are staying longer at given marinas than in previous years.

In other business, Dafterbased contractor John Lechner of Lechner Construction addressed the Waterways Commission in an attempt to stop what he called wrongdoing on the part of the state regarding the awarding of contracts for marina projects. He contends that bidding qualifications are frequently altered, locking out certain bidders and potentially damaging new businesses. In 2001, Mr. Lechner won a $300,000 lawsuit against United Design Associates, Inc., of Cheboygan after being disqualified from a contract to construct a $4 million marina breakwall in St. Ignace.

The Commission's feeling was that Mr. Lechner was at the wrong meeting to voice his continued complaints over the bidding process, which is under the control of the Michigan Department of Management and Budget, Mr. Herta said.

The state requires bidders to have specific equipment and experience to be assured that they are qualified for certain projects, he added. Mr. Lechner contends that his business, although capable of handling state projects in the area, has been denied in favor of larger companies.

Lechner Construction built the Hazelton Street launch site breakwall in St. Ignace.

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